Episode 58 The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions Part 1

The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions

Because this story is actually a novella, I am splitting it probably into three episodes much as I did for Carmilla by J Sheridan Le Fanu.

I’m doing The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions for a couple of reasons. Firstly, of course it is a classic ghost story and has been described as a ‘cut above’ the standard ghost story.

This episode represents sections 1-4 of the story.

We have done an Oliver Onions story before: The Cigarette Case Episode 36

Onions is a lyrical writer and this story is a slow burn. He gives some lovely descriptions of his new flat and the life of the square outside with its school children, cats and dogs and occasional mandolin player.

He actually reminds me of Proust. Now, if I was to read out Proust, I’d be at it for the rest of my life.

Oliver conjoures Elsie Bengough and is not wholly kind about her. She’s a bloomy, pink, moist, lady. In fact, she turns out to the voice of reason, but that’s for future episodes.

I note again Onions’s hidden Welshness. Apart from the fact he’s got a Welsh surname: Ab Enion; he has intimate knowledge of a Meirionethshire accent, which I enjoyed doing. I have friends from Meirionydd, you see. And he calls Elsie, Elsie Bengough, which is clearly Welsh, Bengoch, red head; even though she’s not ginger. 

The ghostly influence is wonderfully subtle. We see it at first changing his taste. He furnishes and paints the flat at first elder-flower pale, but then gets strange ideas about introducing more colour. We wonder where these promptings come from.

Then he can’t work. Ultimately, he dislikes his life’s work novel Romilly Bishop. The Reason he doesn’t like it is because the main character Romilly is based on Elsie Bengough, his sort-of long-term girlfriend. Is the ghost trying to oust him out?

Then he finds a piece of material which he can’t identify, but which Elsie Bengough tells him is a harp cover.

Then the dripping tap subtly insinuates a tune into his head which he begins to hum and Mrs Barrett recognses as The Beckoning Fair One.

Critics have called this the best classic ghost story ever and other say it isn’t a ghost story; much like The Yellow Wallpaper or The Horla.

However, personally, I do think it’s a ghost story. The build up is too deliberate for it all to be chance: the changes in his taste, the artefacts he finds; the harp case for example. For me these carry the energy of The Beckoning Fair One, and she’s out to ensnare him.

Then there’s Elsie Bengough’s prescient comment just before the end of Section 3: Who else lives here? She’s had an intuition that the house is not deserted; that there’s someone or something living there with him. Elsie also has the intuition that the ghost will never allow Oleron to finish Romilly Bishop in that house. She won’t because she’s jealous that the heroine of Romillyis modelled on Elsie Bengough and the ghost is jealous.

It is during the subtle dripping of the tap; the dripping that he later realises introduced the tune of The Beckoning Fair One that he starts to criticise Elsie Bengough so sharply in tones he has never entertained before. I think Onions intends all of this. Oleron is being hypnotised, in my opinion, by the spirit of the house

Who is this Beckoning Fair One and what does she want of him?

You’ll have to keep listening to find out.

Music by The Heartwood Institute

You can listen to the album from which this is taken here

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